Easter 7 (A)
28 May 2017
St Paul’s Church, Byron Bay
St Oswald’s Church, Broken Head
This morning we conclude our series of sermons on the attributes of a spiritually confident faith community in contemporary Australia.
We began by considering what we mean by “confident”.
We saw then that such confidence is not about being arrogant, or cocky. It encourages neither bigotry, nor that quiet smugness that may be our besetting sin as Anglicans. It is more a matter of deep confidence that our spiritual traditions, first as Christians but also as Anglicans, provides us with good reasons to be people of courage and hope.
We then looked at Scripture as an amazing spiritual resource, and deep blessing that is ours when we read in the company of other people, and do so with an attitude of faith and thankfulness. A spiritually confident church will be one that develops the capacity of its members to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Scriptures, as a source of sacred wisdom for daily life.
Next we turned our attention to liturgy, that ancient well of common prayer from which we draw the waters of life for ourselves and for our wider community. We began to think of our churches and our homes as ‘thin places’, where heaven and earth are not far apart.
Last week we turned our attention to the shared life of our church community. We imagined a faith community to be like an oasis where people find sanctuary in their journey through life. A safe place to be, and a good place from which to move on when the time comes. Church as a place where the Lord’s Prayer is not just said, but lived.
Today I invite you to consider how our faith connects with and engages the whole of life.
A Faith for the Whole of Life
As a final hallmark of the spiritually confident faith community, let me suggest that such a church is concerned with the whole of life, and not just with the religious bits.
The church is not a franchise for tickets to heaven, or even for some esoteric personal improvement program.
Our compassion extends from the newborn infant at the font to a frail aged person in the local nursing home. We do local theology, speaking about God in the towns and farms of the Northern Rivers. We are concerned about every person and the whole person.
Following Jesus we embrace the Shema as the mission statement of the covenant people: loving God with our heart, our soul, our strength, and our minds (an addition by Jesus). The whole person is involved in our response to God, and the good news we have to share is for all people and for the whole of life.
We do not agree to be relegated as a private recreational activity for those with an interest in spirituality or alternative health practices.
Without becoming arrogant or intolerant, we believe we have good news that touches on every aspect of the human experience. We know that we have to win the right to be heard, but we do not accept being sidelined as a quaint cultural group with an interesting historical past.
Our concern for the whole of life is grounded in our incarnational theology, its roots run deep into our beliefs about creation, incarnation, and resurrection.
A spiritually confident church will affirm our belief that God is the ultimate source of everything that exists. In the ancient creation poem that we inherited from the Jewish people, we read that God calls everything into being. Day after day through the week of creation our world takes shape in response to God’s invitation: Let there be …
At the end of each day, God looks at what has been created that day and declares it to be good. It is good. That is God’s assessment of our world, and we share that assessment. We do not divide this reality into clean and unclean, light and dark, godly and godless, physical and spiritual. All is of God and all is good.
This becomes even more powerful for us at the incarnation. God immerses herself in the physical world, taking star dust from an ancient super nova to fashion the human being we know as Jesus of Nazareth. The creator blends with the creature. Immanuel. God with us, among us, as one of us.
At Easter we see God go even deeper into the divine embrace of creation. Having first made humans to share God’s own immortality, God now allows death to become part of God’s own deep immersion in the human project. We were made in God’s image, but God chooses to embrace our mortality. How else to save us from ourselves?
God entering death is like a lamp being lit in a dark room. Light shatters the darkness. Always. The deepest darkness is splintered by the tiniest candle. Death is destroyed by the willingness of God to embrace our mortality. The power of death is shattered by the gentle, loving presence of ultimate Life.
For a robust and spiritually confident church there is no part of the human experience which is out of bounds.
We embrace everything we can learn about this world from the natural sciences and the social sciences. For a spiritually confident church, science is never the enemy. Fear is the enemy, not knowledge—and perfect love drives out fear.
Such a church celebrates life, welcomes the new insights generated by researchers, encourages its members to bring the whole of themselves into the quest for knowledge, for justice, and for the healing of our fragile Earth.
Reconciliation Week 2017
This week we are called as a nation to reflect on the need for deep and genuine reconciliation between the indigenous people of this ancient land and those of us whose people arrived much later. It would undermine all we have been thinking about during these past two weeks if we allowed our national focus this week to pass without any comment in our liturgy today.
You may recall that I suggested a few weeks ago that our liturgy is an investment in the spiritual fabric of our community.
Today is one occasion when what we say ‘in here’ and what we do ‘out there’ hangs together.
This is one of the ways that we live the Lord’s Prayer:
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
This week we mark 50 years since the referendum in 1967 that approved the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in the official population count. Looking back now we may be amazed that the question even needed a vote, but it did.
This year we also mark 25 years since the Mabo Case which established that traditional title to the land continues to exist for many indigenous people and was not extinguished by the British Crown in 1788.
In the last couple of days we have seen a gathering of indigenous people at Uluru, ‘the rock at the heart of our land’, as we said in our prayers just last week. It calls on Australia to find a way for the First Nations of this shared land to have a voice in our Constitution.
It is not our job as church to propose how that should be done, but as people of faith we can rejoice as our indigenous sisters and brothers find their voice. They invite us to sit down together and find a better way.
As people of faith, as people of Jesus, we will join that process and make it something for which we work and pray.
We pray first of all for our sisters and brothers from the First Nations.
Then we pray for our political leaders. They need wisdom, courage, and grace.
In addition, we pray for open hearts and minds: for ourselves as much as anyone else. May we act and speak out of love, and not out of fear.
Uluru Statement from the Heart
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.